Rugby World Cup 2019: Ireland Squad (Forwards)

Ireland have announced their 44 man training group ahead of their World Cup preparations with two debutants, former Sale Sharks fullback Mike Haley and Munster’s South African import Jean Kleyn also included amongst the more familiar names such as the retiring Rory Best and 2018 World Player of the Year Jonny Sexton.

Rory Best will captain the team from hooker and he is joined by Niall Scannell, Rob Herring and long time deputy Sean Cronin. With Best and Cronin likely to go Joe Schmidt will have a tough time choosing between the two hookers the other side of 30, Niall Scannell, 27 and Rob Herring, 29.

Scannell has the advantage in caps with his 14 doubling the seven earned by Rob Herring and he is highly regarded by Munster head coach Johan Van Graan.

By the side of Best we expect there to be five options. Tadhg Furlong is arguably the best tighthead prop in the world. His Leinster teammate Cian Healy is also excellent and one of the best scrummagers going. Munster pair David Kilcoyne and John Ryan are the form back-ups to provide extra power late on. Then there is a debate to be had about where they will need the extra option.

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By Warwick Gastinger – Rugby World Cup DSCN4902, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43622805

Jack McGrath is heavily experienced with 54 Ireland caps but with he has to contend with the highly rated 23 year old Andrew Porter and the less fancied Finlay Bealham. Porter would benefit from the high octane environment of a World Cup.

If we are totally honest in the engine room there is one man above all others, James Ryan. Just 22 years old but by far the best lock that Ireland have.

To offset the youthful exuberance is the totem pole-like Leinster second row, Devin Toner. He is closely followed by the in-form lock, Tadhg Beirne who has impressed at Thomond Park this season putting in some massive performances in the Champions Cup.

Jean Kleyn has done well to make the squad but he’s not in the same class as supposed Ireland mainstay Iain Henderson and Ultan Dillane. Henderson has 30 more caps than Dillane and provides a very safe pair of hands at the lineout similar to Dillane in many ways.

In the back row Ireland have plenty of options, the main one being Munster’s, Peter O’Mahony. CJ Stander is also a key component to the back row with his carrying a very important part of Ireland’s attacking game, with that in mind Jack Conan is also fast becoming indispensable to Joe Schmidt’s side.

Josh van der Flier is the natural successor to Sean O’Brien and he has that natural openside feel to his game as he has shown countless times not just for Ireland but also his province, Leinster.

Tommy O’Donnell, Rhys Ruddock and Jordi Murphy have all had some great performances in the green of Ireland, O’Donnell’s long range try over Italy in the Six Nations a fond memory for the Munster back row. Murphy has the most caps with 27, just six more than Ruddock and 15 more than his fellow clubman.

Our Picks

On the Plane: Rory Best (Ulster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), James Ryan (Leinster)

In the Departure Lounge: Cian Healy (Leinster), CJ Stander (Munster), Devin Toner (Leinster)

Checking In: Jack Conan, Sean Cronin (both Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), David Kilcoyne, John Ryan (both Munster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster)

Packing: Tadhg Beirne (Munster), Jordi Murphy (Ulster), Andrew Porter (Leinster), Niall Scannell (Munster)

At Home: Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane (both Connacht), Rob Herring (Ulster), Jean Kleyn, Tommy O’Donnell (both Munster), Rhys Ruddock (Leinster)

Bath Rugby v Wasps: Three Key Battles

Both Bath Rugby and Wasps have had disappointing seasons compared with both clubs successful histories and strong squads.

The teams sit in 7th (Wasps) and 8th (Bath) just one point apart and both still hope to qualify for next season’s Champions Cup and could even make the play-offs.

Here are three head-to-head’s we think could decide the contest.

  1. Anthony Watson v Willie le Roux

There’s no doubt about these two are world class. The return of Anthony Watson was one of the very few positives to come out of Bath’s 6-3 loss to Sale Sharks.

Watson’s electric feet would cause any defender problems, not only does he have pace to burn but is an evasive runner, he can step off both feet and he is certainly among England’s best finishers and he needs a big performance over the next couple of weeks to force himself into Eddie Jones’ World Cup plans.

The South African fullback is such a presence for the Coventry based club both on and off the field, like Watson is a very good attacking player. Le Roux is also a very good kicker and can be a vital part of Wasps exit strategy.

2. Dave Attwood v Joe Launchbury

The Bath lock is set to leave the Recreation Ground and head for the Ashton Gate at the end of the season and he is up against one of the most athletic locks in England’s top flight.

Attwood is much more than just a lineout option, he is often among Bath’s top carriers, he makes the hard yards using his pure power and raw aggression to get Bath on the front foot. If Bath win you can guarantee this man will have had a big game.

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By Graham Wilson from United Kingdom – Dave AttwoodUploaded by Kafuffle, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23096311

Joe Launchbury unlucky to be around at the same time as so many other brilliant English second rows. The towering Launchbury is everywhere in a match, he hits rucks, carries hard and tackles effectively. The all-action Wasp is a key part of what is becoming a very settled pack.

3. Ruaridh McConnochie v Marcus Watson

The second Watson on this list will take up his place on the right wing for Wasps, opposite him will be arguably Bath’s form wing in McConnochie.

Marcus Watson has had a good season and will certainly be a man Bath need to keep an eye on. Any loose kicks and Watson much like his brother is more than capable of punishing defenders. If he gets in behind nobody will catch the fleet footed Wasp.

McConnochie has played across the back three for Bath Rugby this season and has been excellent. I can’t recall watching McConnochie have a bad game this season and that has been a saving grace that has had Anthony Watson and Semesa Rokoduguni missing for very large portions of the season.

A key battle in the race for the top half. Will these battles within the war decide the contest? Let us know in the comments section!

Six Nations Preview: England Squad

With Eddie Jones set to announce his latest squad on Thursday it’s time we took a look at who could be in Eddie Jones’ squad for what will be England’s last matches before they begin their warm-ups for the World Cup in August.

At the front end of the squad the Saracens prop Mako Vunipola is back fit following an injury that ruled him out of the Quilter Internationals back in November. Vunipola is among the best loosehead props in the world and walks in to Eddie Jones’ squad.

Behind him is undoubtedly the outspoken Ellis Genge who has put a good run of performances together, he is another who missed the November tests through injury. That leaves England’s starters in November, the Exeter duo of Alec Hepburn and Ben Moon battling it out for what may be the last place at prop.

On the other side if the scrum there is a clear frontrunner in British & Irish Lion, Kyle Sinckler. His abrasive style and work around the park make him a real asset.

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By Charlie from UK – Kyle Sinckler, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35386171

With Eddie Jones only likely to take five props it could be a straight fight between veteran Dan Cole and Harry Williams.

Rugby360’s Picks: Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers), Ben Moon (Exeter Chiefs), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins), Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Harry Williams (Exeter Chiefs)

In between there is one player that has to start following a strong showing in the autumn and with him being one of Jones’ co-captains. That is of course the physical, New Zealand born Dylan Hartley. He starts.

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By Blackcat – Derived from Diliff’s Dylan Hartley, Twickenham – May 2012.jpg, released with same licence, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24066490

Behind him the options are also fairly straightforward, Saracens Jamie George is very good around the field and his link with mainstays Maro Itoje and George Kruis at lineout time is an advantage. And for back-up there are two main options in Exeter’s Luke Cowan-Dickie or Worcester’s Jack Singleton. Both would be fine choices as back-up for England.

Rugby360’s Picks: Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs), Jamie George (Saracens), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints)

Saracens’ Maro Itoje is a shoo-in for England, he’s powerful and master of line speed. We saw him pile the pressure on Handre Pollard and Beauden Barrett in November. Alongisde him there is his teammate George Kruis, a lineout specialist.

Wasps are welcoming Joe Launchbury at the moment and he adds his considerable talent to what is a well stocked second row division for England.

With Dave Attwood consistently overlooked his Bath teammate Charlie Ewels is in the running to complete the options at lock, he’ll have stiff competition from a resurgent Ed Slater, Leicester’s promising Will Spencer and another Bath player in Elliot Stooke who was in the squad last year.

There are of course the looming presences of Courtney Lawes and Nick Isiekwe but currently they are more suited to England’s back row.

Rugby360’s Picks: Maro Itoje, George Kruis (both Saracens), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Ed Slater (Gloucester Rugby)

One notable absentee from England’s back row is Sam Underhill who announced himself to the world with a barnstorming performance against New Zealand, a personal highlight was watching the flanker turn Beauden Barrett inside out for the try that was ruled out by TMO Marius Jonker.

However his absence will be offset by the return of Saracens’ Billy Vunipola. Vunipola is a monster and along with his brother is regarded as one of the finest in his position, he will be key piece of Eddie Jones’ World Cup puzzle if he can stay fit.

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By Charlie from UK – IMG_4726Uploaded by stemoc, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28727588

The back-up number eight options are outstanding even with Sam Simmonds out of action with an ACL injury. Nathan Hughes has returned to fitness recently and Zach Mercer continues to impress when he plays for Bath.

To replace the crocked Underhill the frontrunner is clearly Sale’s Tom Curry, a breakdown specialist but he lacks the raw power of his Bath counterpart. Chris Robshaw would be an option but his strengths lie at blindside rather than openside in my mind and he’s still not quite fit but should be ready for England’s opener with Ireland.

Former Hurricane Brad Shields is the man currently in possession of the six shirt but there is stiff competition from versatile second row Courtney Lawes who would offer the physicality England lose without Underhill and he provides a third lineout option.

The same could be said of Saracens youngster Nick Isiekwe. The star of the autumn was undoubtedly Mark Wilson and his ability to play across the back row make him a crucial part of England’s squad. Saracens Michael Rhodes is also in the mix.

Then there’s Harlequins’ current superstar, Alex Dombrandt, he’s fast and he knows how to link play. Dombrandt could be a very good addition for England at the World Cup but he needs to get that experience under his belt if he is going to be anywhere near Eddie Jones’ thoughts.

Rugby360’s Picks: Tom Curry (Sale Sharks), Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Brad Shields (Wasps), Billy Vunipola (Saracens), Mark Wilson (NewcastleFalcons)